Healthcare Monday

It's still the economy, stupid: Howard Dean, former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said despite all the talk that healthcare reform would make or break election bids this year, the issue has taken a backseat to the struggling economy this campaign season. 

"You don't hear the Republicans talking very much about healthcare anymore," Dean told CNN Sunday. "It's all about jobs and the economy."

But don't tell that to Kathleen Sebelius: The secretary of the Health and Human Services Department said over the weekend that healthcare reform is a monumental achievement for Democrats — and a key reason they were put in power to begin with. 

“We passed a transformational healthcare bill in spite of daunting odds,” Sebelius said Friday in St. Louis. "The more people understand this bill, the more they’re going to like it.”

Going the way of travel agents? Insurance agents are pushing back against the possibility that a shift to Web-based browsing and purchasing won't make them irrelevant. "We know that [agents and brokers] provide a valuable service," said Illinois Insurance Director Michael McRaith.

Bottom line: Medical students are shying away from internal medicine and family practice. The reason? The $191K average annual salary is too low, they complain.

Efficient giant, or monopoly? That's the question some are asking in southern Virginia, where one healthcare company owns eight hospitals and employs more than 550 doctors. "Is its dominance a new model for health care or a blatant attempt to corner the market?" The Washington Post asks.

One benefit of an aging population: In New York City, medical professionals are in high demand, creating job opportunities amid an ailing economy when hiring in most sectors has been anemic.  

"There's a shortage of registered nurses and right now the average age of a registered nurse is about 51 or 52 years old — so there's a constant need for registered nurses," New York State Commissioner of Labor Colleen Gardner told a local news outlet. "There's a growing need for healthcare because we're also an aging population."

Tackling the backlog of mine safety citations — but will that make mines safer? Federal mine officials on Friday launched a pilot program designed to reduce the enormous backlog of safety citations, which has reached almost 90,000. But some independent experts say eliminating the backlog won't do a thing if federal inspectors don't get more aggressive with the mining industry. 

"It's a red herring," Tony Oppegard, a former attorney with the Mine Safety and Health Administration, said of efforts to tackle the backlog. "It's a way to make you look like you're doing something when you're really not doing something."

GOP leaders continue push to repeal new 1099 tax filing requirement: Sen. Mike Enzi (Wyo.), senior Republican on the Senate health committee, is the latest to slam a provision of healthcare reform requiring businesses to file more tax forms. 

"Most businesses will probably owe a 1099 to everybody on main street that they work with, and each of them will owe you one," Enzi said in a recent interview from Washington.